Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rachel Zoe in the City of Light

I do not understand the fascination with stylist-to-the-stars Rachel Zoe. Ms. Zoe is a teeny-tiny ball of lightning and fire, so combustible I fear for her luxe blonde locks and their ability to survive surefire conflagration in the wake of her manic workaholism.

And yet. And yet. I'm utterly obsessed with her reality show, The Rachel Zoe Project on Bravo, which is now in its second season. Ms. Zoe darts all over Los Angeles in her black SUV, her two hapless and bickering stylist associates (the infamous Brad and Taylor, best known for their childish antics as much as for their sartorial assistance and savvy) in tow, sporting her massive sunglasses and letting spill such gems as "I. Die." and "Bananas!" out of her puckered mouth.

Does anyone else share this keen interest in what I acknowledge is otherwise a very, very shallow show? Mind you, I don't think Ms. Zoe herself is shallow -- I have nothing but utmost respect for her as a working professional, a self-described creative artist who has clearly figured out the secret to making a ton of money doing what she loves most, i.e., shopping, and who wouldn't want that job? -- but the way the show spins the drama of, say, picking out a celebrity's outfit for a press conference or (God forbid!!!) an awards ceremony into something on the level of importance of, oh, the Japanese surrender to the Allies on the USS Missouri is insane.

Insane, as in, this week's episode reveals Ms. Zoe's physical breakdown following a crazy awards season, during which she styled the likes of Cameron Diaz, Anne Hathaway, Demi Moore, Chanel Iman, Eva Mendes, and a few other A-list actresses and models. Ms. Zoe's physician diagnoses vertigo and prescribes lots and lots of rest, but then this is Reality TV World, not to mention Los Angeles and the rarefied world of show business, where sitting on one's derriere, no matter how well-toned or bony or bejeweled, is considered a mortal sin. (I'm a Catholic, albeit a lapsed one. I know from whence I speak. Mortal sin = bad, baaad thing.) It's just not done.

And yet I can't help but watch, and watch I do every week. The wonderful thing about reality shows is that their seasons last a fraction of the length of traditional, scripted shows, so you're really only subjecting your precious brain cells to about 10 hours or perhaps even less a year on such fluff, minus commercials. I don't ever feel the need to defend my particular reality show interests (Dancing with the Stars? Nah. Survivor? Is that still even around? Give me Tori & Dean anyday.), but I will say that one big draw for me is the chance to see powerful women at work. I mean, really at work, as opposed to watching them play someone working, like Julianna Margulies as lawyer Alicia Florrick in the awesome new drama, The Good Wife.

People both within and without the stifling confines of Hollywood might consider the likes of Rachel Zoe and her folks as being superficial, shallow, vapid, and chronically self-absorbed, but one thing they can never accuse her of is being lazy. Watching her show is a bit like imagining what life might be like for a Project Runway designer to actually go on to enormous success -- what we see on the runway might be all glitter and glamour and the dreamy flicker of popping flashbulbs, but the reality of styling, like any other job, involves lots of schlepping, schmoozing, late nights, early mornings, deadlines, events, publicity, marketing, branding, networking, purchasing, management, human resources...all the endless responsibilities under the umbrella of even the smallest company, just magnified on television and, yes, overly dramatized but still quite real.

Ms. Zoe has clearly spent countless, tireless hours of her life building her empire, and it's been no small feat. Although The Rachel Zoe Project (of which the titular star is also a producer) highlights only a small fraction of that empire -- the show stars Ms. Zoe; her husband Rodger, himself a multimedia entrepreneur; Brad and Taylor -- she obviously has a bigger, more robust staff working behind the scenes, including her personal assistant, Marisa; a few other styling assistants; her makeup and hair assistant, Joey; and an online consultant named Jessica, all of whom make occasional appearances on the show. She also has her camera crew, production assistants, and the unseen, unnamed people who maintain her online Web presence and daily newsletter.

The Rachel Zoe Project
may ostensibly be about celebrity fashion -- and there's plenty of that, both in L.A. and New York, where Ms. Zoe also spends a good deal of time -- but it's really mostly about the running around behind the scenes, the not-so-glamorous infrastructure of overflowing closets, fourteen-hour-days, endless meetings (even if they are with people like Diane von Furstenberg and Giorgio Armani), and the occasional mean mention on Page Six. It's about work and what it takes to become successful, and while Ms. Zoe and Co. may sometimes seem like inhabitants from an alien world, underneath it all they're still just hardworking women trying to carve out a niche and a name for themselves. Just like you and me. Except, you know, dressed in Chanel and sporting a seemingly endless collection of Hermes Birkin bags in all different colors and sizes.

For those of you interested, October 12th will be the season finale, but in the meantime, Ms. Zoe and her entourage hit Paris for Fashion Week. They'll be attending shows from Galliano to Chanel and choosing possible outfits for their clients for another round of award shows in the spring. And of course, they'll probably be indulging in a little more drama for the cameras, too. New show next Monday, 9 Central/10 Eastern, on Bravo TV.

By the way, I discovered a new blog and store, courtesy of Ms. Zoe's show this previous Monday. If you live in L.A., you've probably already heard of Decades Two, which sounds like my idea of heaven. (That is, if Heaven meant I had a limitless supply of money.) Decades Two is a designer consignment shop, while its sister store, Decades, is a vintage couture shop. I caught a glimpse of their offerings on the show and have had a little chance to peruse some of the posts and photos on their blogs (here and here) and am already planning my next trip to the West Coast. It may not involve a lot of actual shopping, but there will definitely be lots of window licking shopping. In fact, I've already picked out the dress I plan to wear when I win the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Very Gigi, don't you think?